With COP26 in the news, my article for the November Crossways newsletter for St Paul’s Church Spennymoor and Whitworth Church.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak recently unveiled a budget for ‘a new age of optimism’. We certainly need some optimism after the last couple of years!
Meanwhile, with the COP26 climate conference in the news, many people are feeling less than optimistic about the future. ‘Eco-anxiety’ is the name given to this: ‘the chronic fear of environmental doom’.
I’ve been reading lately about the stories that shape our culture. We are story-telling creatures, and we use these stories to make sense of the world in which we live.
One of the stories we tell ourselves is the story of progress. Everyone alive in the west today has been living through a period of rapid progress. The changes we’ve seen since the second world war have been immense, and largely for the better.
But such rapid change cannot continue indefinitely, especially if it is harming the planet on which we live.
How should we respond to the current state of the environment?
Some people think it will all be OK, and there’s no need to panic. Maybe the scientists are too pessimistic in their predictions? In any case, our ‘gods’ are sure to save us. Technological solutions will be just around the corner, we tell ourselves, once the economy starts growing again!
Other people think it will all be OK, as long as we take take urgent and decisive action. As David Attenborough said recently, ‘If we don’t act now, it’ll be too late.’
Both of these responses are shaped by the idea of progress. Everything will be OK, one way or the other, because that’s the way history is moving.
But what should a Christian response be?
The first thing we need to realise is that the idea of progress is a Christian idea. As Timothy Keller puts it:
The ancients saw history as cyclical and endless, while Christians understood it to be under the control of God, who was moving it purposefully through light and darkness toward a great and irreversible climax.
But this isn’t some kind of automatic law of nature, nor is it a simple matter of each decade being better than the previous one. A Christian view of progress and history is one that is centred on God and on the resurrection: the resurrection of Jesus, and the ‘resurrection of the dead’ that we look forward to when Jesus returns.
Only God knows the future. We might be in for a bumpy ride in the coming decades. But we know where history is heading in the long term. God’s ultimate plan for this world is not for it to be destroyed in a catastrophe. But God’s plan is for this world to be transformed into his glorious eternal kingdom. And that transformation has begun already, with the resurrection of Jesus, and with the gift of the Holy Spirit. So let’s live lives of faith, hope and love, as we look towards the better days that lie ahead.
Yes, things can only get better, but only as we look at the big picture of history, and only through the grace of God.